Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work (MSW)


Social Work


Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work

First Advisor

Anne Westhues

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


This qualitative evaluation examines the capacity of the Red Cross National Societies in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, Peru and Argentina to address the psychological and social needs of the survivors of disasters and complex emergencies. Specifically, the study explored how individuals working with the Red Cross perceive the services that are currently being offered, what are the strengths and limitations of these services, and what they believe the Red Cross can do to enhance its capacity to effectively assist vulnerable populations to deal with the traumatic effects of disasters and complex emergencies? Field research was carried out over a 15 week period in six Latin American countries. Thirty-four semi structured interviews were conducted, and five round table discussion sessions hosted. Participants varied on gender, socioeconomic status, education level, and represented differing regions of their respective country—rural and urban. All participants were members of the Red Cross and functioned in either a paid or voluntary capacity—each having been an active participant in a recent or historic Red Cross humanitarian aid initiative. It quickly became evident that while the Red Cross and other aid agencies can learn much from experts as to how to carry out relief, rehabilitation and recovery initiatives on a global level, the true experts to whom such organizations should listen are those who work in the front line and who are members of the affected communities. These individuals are sensitive to the local context, more attuned to the needs of the local population, and aware of the strategies that need to be employed to promote healing among affected populations. This strategy for healing reportedly entails a holistic and integrated approach that focuses on community capacity building and training, with the utilization of local resources (human and material) and the establishment of partnerships within the community. It was believed that such an investment in creating community capacity would not only aid in attending to psychological and emotional wellness directly following a disaster, it would also promote the long term sustainability of such services. Further, it was argued that working with and empowering communities, humanitarian aid agencies would ensure that the programs and services offered are culturally sensitive and respectful of local realities. No longer can we view members of the affected communities as auxiliary supports and/or passive recipients of aid. These individuals need to be viewed as invaluable agency resources and active agents in the community healing process.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season


Included in

Social Work Commons